Cash rebate programs for electric cars, trucks and SUVs should be expanded to include e-bikes, say sustainability and mobility advocates.
E-bikes, or power-assisted bikes, function like traditional bicycles but are equipped with a battery-powered electric motor to provide a boost when pedaling.
Erin O'Neil of Ottawa is on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and has been scanning the market for a power-assisted adult tricycle, which can easily retail for $2,500 or more.
"E-bikes make it easier to be biking around, especially in a disabled body," O'Neil says. "But it's just not something on ODSP that I can afford."
O'Neil adds she has little patience for the view that an e-bike is a luxury. For her, it would grant independence.
"It is not a toy," she says. "I live in an urban area and it is something that could definitely help me get around."
While the federal government recently expanded its electric car rebate program to include SUVs and pickups, offering buyers up to $5,000 for cars under $55,000 and trucks under $60,000, e-bikes and e-cargo bikes were not included.
"It feels really unfair, especially in a climate emergency, to see people get that kind of money to drive trucks and cars around ... and we're just sitting on the sidelines," O'Neil says. "We would like to get around just as easily as you're getting around, but we're not. We're just left out."
E-bike as car replacements
With the birth of their second child, Jessica Barnes and her husband considered the pros and cons of buying a second vehicle.
"Often people will upgrade to a larger vehicle to accommodate a larger family, but we really did not feel good with that decision," says Barnes.
Rather than add another car to the road, the Ottawa family decided last year to spend $8,000 on an e-cargo bike with a front bucket to transport her two young children.
"If we wanted to make it easy on our family and functional for our family, it had to have a little bit of assistance," she says.
While any future rebate would come too late for Barnes, she says governments need to focus more on replacing cars, not just the engines that power them.
"In order to incentivize people to buy alternative forms of transportation, there needs to be some kind of financial support," she says.
WATCH | Commuting by e-bike in Ottawa
As for her bike's $8,000 price tag, Barnes says she's still coming out on top compared to buying and owning a car.
"What's your insurance? What's the bill for repairs?" Barnes asks rhetorically. "I guarantee you, we're spending a lot less than a person with a car."
And then there are the benefits that extend beyond their wallets.
"It's so much fun, [the kids] really enjoy it and can't wait to go."
Yukon, N.S. lead the way
In response to questions about why the federal government gives rebates for buying new electric vehicles (EVs) but not e-bikes, Transport Canada says its Zero-Emissions Vehicles program helps the industry move toward price parity between internal combustion vehicles and higher-priced EVs, with the eventual goal of increasing the share of EVs on the road.
The department adds it's investing $400 million over five years to support active transportation infrastructure across Canada.
While the government does not currently assist buyers of e-bikes, several provinces, as well as Yukon, have introduced rebates of their own.
E-bike buyers in Nova Scotia can get a rebate of up to $500, while residents in Yukon receive a rebate equal to 25 percent of the purchase price, capped at $750 for e-bikes and $1,500 for e-cargo bikes.
Businesses in B.C. can collect up to $1,700 in assistance for an e-cargo bike.
Ontario does not offer any rebate for e-bikes, but both the Liberals and Greens are promising to introduce rebates in their election platforms.
With e-bikes being the fastest-growing segment of bike sales in Canada, the lack of a federal incentive program is a missed opportunity to improve sustainability, according to Brian Pincott, executive director of the advocacy group Vélo Canada Bikes.
"E-bikes stand a much better chance of replacing a car," says Pincott. "Sustainability isn't simply changing a traffic jam of gas-powered cars for a traffic jam of electric-powered cars. We actually need to offer opportunities for people to get out of cars."
Pincott adds that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed glaring inequalities when it comes to people's options for getting around.
"Providing greater transportation choice to everyone builds greater equity within our communities, and we need to expand transportation choice, not just change the engine of the car," he says.